Young people, it seems, have been behaving badly when it comes to matters of coronavirus.
In Kentucky, they had a "coronavirus party," where at least one attendee got coronavirus; a 21-year-old contracted coronavirus after recording a video in blatant disregard of social distancing; spring breakers flocked to beaches, and one apologized after telling a reporter, "If I get corona, I get corona" as he partied amid the pandemic.
It might be easy for many to vilify Gen Zers and millennials for this behavior, but the truth is more complex.
Early guidance suggested young people were essentially immune to serious coronavirus complications. We now know that's not true.
That faulty information was coupled with an unregulated deluge of free time after schools and workplaces shut down, creating the perfect storm for parties and traveling.
"Younger people always have a sense of invincibility, that they’re not vulnerable to serious illnesses, and it doesn’t weigh on their minds much," said John Greene, the chief of infectious diseases at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida.
Here's what experts say young people should know about the pandemic and how they can help prevent others from getting sick.
Younger Americans get seriously ill from coronavirus
Data suggests older Americans are at an increased risk for serious complications or death from coronavirus, but young people across the nation also get seriously ill from the new disease, and at least one has died.
Nipunie Rajapakse, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Mayo Clinic, said early data showing that young people were less affected by coronavirus lulled them into “a false sense of security and a sense of complacency about this pandemic.”
“Young people need to understand that they are not immune to this virus and they are not invincible,” she said.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released last week that found 1 in 5 U.S. cases were among people ages 20 to 44. A large portion of young people could have COVID-19 with mild symptoms not requiring hospitalization.
You can make others sick, even if you feel OK
Experts say COVID-19 is more easily transmitted than viruses such as the flu, which means young people need to adjust how they think about their own health.
“This is not an illness that just affects the person who acquires it but the greater community as a whole,” said Alan Koff, chief fellow of infectious diseases at Yale School of Medicine.
Greene pointed out that young people generally are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms that don't require medical care. Asymptomatic people, however, are some of the most common transmitters of the disease because they don't take the precautions that sick people do.
“Each one of them is like a spark that can set off a forest fire within their own communities,” Rajapakse said. “They’re now putting not only themselves but others around them, including their own parents and grandparents, at risk for serious illness and death.”
As it became clear in recent weeks this message was not reaching many young people, doctors and authorities began taking them to task, especially spring breakers and partiers.
"I was personally extremely disappointed to see and hear about young people behaving in such a selfish and reckless way especially at such a critical time during this outbreak response," Rajapakse said.
You can make a big difference by correcting older generations
There is a small silver lining to this. The interconnectedness among young people may be the key to helping spread information that will flatten the curve.
Younger people can use their tech and social media abilities for good. They "have the power and ability to help amplify accurate information and recommendations about social distancing from reliable sources," Rajapakse said.
Misinformation spreads a lot more quickly in older generations than among millennials and Gen Zers, researchers at Princeton and New York University found last year, and by breaking the chain, they could effectively spread correct information.
That may already be happening, Greene said. "With younger people, slowly, the vast majority of them are coming onboard with understanding that social distancing can help prevent infections in their grandparents," Greene said.
It may mean the difference between life and death.
"We really need their cooperation and understanding that these measures are being put in place to protect them, their friends and their families," Rajapakse said.